On March 24, 1980, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, was shot and killed while celebrating Mass in a chapel. Oscar Romero was sixty-two years old, and had been a Catholic priest since 1942, having entered a seminary at the age of thirteen. He became an archbishop in 1977. His gruesome murder was a sickening act, carried out to achieve a vile purpose, but it must never be forgotten. Many years later, the martyrdom of Oscar Romero endures as a solemn lesson that still is in need of being learned.
Oscar Romero was murdered because he dared to peacefully oppose the forces of violent repression in El Salvador. The right-wing leaders of El Salvador, openly acting to preserve the corrupt interests of wealthy landowners, were engaged in waging a savage war against their own people, with military aid from the United States. In February of 1980, when Oscar Romero sent a letter to President Jimmy Carter, pleading with him to cease sending military aid to the government of El Salvador, arguing that it was being used to oppress those who were poor and defenseless, his pleas were not heeded. A month later, Oscar Romero was brazenly slain.
The ruthless leaders of El Salvador hated Oscar Romero, and they feared the righteous truth that he and his humble followers represented. When they finally killed him, seeking to destroy all attempts at opposition to their brutal authority, it most likely was done with the underhanded assistance of the United States. What is known for certain is that even after the murder of Oscar Romero, the United States continued its policy of wrongfully sending military aid to El Salvador. It also is known that as a direct result of that military aid, the people of El Salvador continued to suffer.
Although Che Guevara, who was a questionable figure of ruthless violence, is accorded a greater degree of glory in many quarters, it actually was Oscar Romero, who was a valiant figure of humility and peace, who cast a stronger light into the darkness of Latin American history. Through his display of courage and steadfastness, he offered the only way forward for the people of El Salvador. His selfless life exemplified the undeniable power, and the stark necessity, of nonviolence.